The future is plastic electronics

A new electronics industry appears to be on the verge of exploding on the scene in Europe, and one company is at the forefront of this pioneering development.

Earlier this year, the UK technology start-up Plastic Logic announced that it had secured USD 100 million (€76 million) worth of venture capital to help build the world's first commercial plant for plastic electronics manufacture.

The main function of the factory will be to scale up commercial production of display devices for "take anywhere, read anywhere" electronic reader products. Using a process developed by the company, the plant will make displays that its creators claim are almost as flexible and have the same look and feel as paper.

According to the company's Marketing Executive, Anusha Nirmalananthan, the technology will revolutionise digital displays. "Our flexible displays will be thin, light and robust and will enable electronic reader products that are as comfortable and natural to read as paper," she told.

"Real time connectivity will allow users to download a book or a newspaper and read them wherever they are and whenever they want to. As the battery will last for thousands of pages, users won't have to worry about recharging it," she added.

Plastic Logic, which was spun out of Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory, participated in two EU funded projects, Discel and Naimo, under the Fifth and Sixth Framework Programmes respectively. In Naimo, it took a leading role in developing the nanofabrication techniques now to be used in manufacturing the smart plastic materials found in the novel flexible displays.

"This is a technology in which Europe has a world-leading position and EU support to projects such as NAIMO helped ensure we will be the winners at the end of the race, not just early front runners," said Stuart Evans, CEO of Plastic Logic.

Indeed, although there is nothing new about plastic semiconductors since they were discovered in the 1960s, their successful commercialisation is a new and exciting development, especially when it takes place in Europe.

The company has chosen Dresden in the "Silicon Saxony" region of eastern Germany as the location for its new plant because of the city's strong traditions in the field of micro-electronics research.

The factory will use a simple set of processing operations to build active-matrix backplanes on plastic 'substrates' - the material on which circuits are formed - which, when combined with an electronic-paper frontplane material, will be used to create the thin, light and robust display modules.

The company will start mass producing the 10 inch (25cm) 150 pixels per inch display modules with 16 grey levels by the middle of 2008. With a target of one million plastic semi conductor sheets in its first year and 2.2 million a year from then on, Plastic Logic is predicting that worldwide annual sales could grow to 41.6 million units by 2010.

So as the new area of plastic electronic opens up, many of the giants of the electronic world are now eager to get a slice of the plastic electronics action. From Franco-US group Alcatel-Lucent to Philips of the Netherlands, and from Japan's Hitachi to Samsung of South Korea, all are working on plastic semiconductors or at least monitoring how they develop.

According to Ms Nirmalananthan, scientists are "creating a new electronics industry that will become a significant addition to silicon. What's more, we are two years ahead of our competitors," she says.

For further information about PlasticLogic and the EU projects, please visit:

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